Over 17 Million Cubic Feet of Ice Threaten Italian Tourist Town

The Planpincieux Glacier located in the Alps seen from a popular hiking area near Courmayeur, Italy. Now, it could come tumbling down.
The Planpincieux Glacier located in the Alps seen from a popular hiking area near Courmayeur, Italy. Now, it could come tumbling down.
Photo: Antonio Calanni (AP)

Anything is possible when it comes to ice these warming days: disappearing ice caps, newly discovered penguin colonies, and now, crumbling glaciers threatening the lives of dozens of people.

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On Thursday, the northern Italian municipality of Courmayeur announced the evacuation of 15 residents and 60 tourists staying in buildings near where the Planpincieux Glacier in the Alps hangs. In the most 2020 fashion, more than 17.7 million cubic feet of ice is on the brink of collapsing.

Temperatures are expected to reach up to or even surpass 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.7 degrees Celsius), which is abnormally high for the region. Researchers with the Safe Mountain Foundation and Regional Councilorship for Public Works, Territory, and Public Residential Building are working with local officials to monitor the potential icefall.

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“It is the volume of the Milan Cathedral,” Valerio Segor, head of the Aosta Valley regional department for public works, said in Italy’s La Stampa. “A soccer field with over 80 meters of ice. In its fall it is able to do considerable damage and to go a long way, like an avalanche in winter.”

The paper reported that the glacier has been moving by almost 3 feet (0.9 meters) per day. It’s not yet clear when the ice may collapse, but experts estimate some major movement could come within the next three days. That’ll largely depend on whether temperatures in the region further push the glacier to its limit.

This isn’t the first time government officials have had to evacuate the area, closing down roads and streets. This glacier has threatened to break before. Last year, an almost identical scenario played out. Then, “only” 9 million cubic feet of ice was at stake. The threat has nearly doubled since then. Because the glacier hangs off the wall of a valley, it is much more vulnerable to rising temperatures, and putting the resort community beneath it at risk.

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The changing climate the world faces is transforming the way ice moves on our planet. Though is the glacier is an immediate concern for the residents and visitors of this northern Italian town, it’s not the only one to see this fate. A funeral was held in the Swiss Alps last year for a dead glacier. Iceland saw a similar one last year, too. Climate change threatens to erase half of the glaciers in the Alps by the end of this century. Many will slowly wither away in the rising heat, but some could go potentially go out like Planpincieux with a bang.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

Barada_nikto_byotch

The Glacier of Damocles I presume.